Friday, 27 July 2012

Two Months, One Week: She Wasn't Perfect.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can't remember who to send it to

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

James Taylor "I've seen fire and I've seen rain"

Mr. Taylor has it slightly wrong; even after they are dead you think you will see them again.  You look for them on the streets, in crowded restaurants, in the face of the twenty-something waitress who bares a vague resemblance to your daughter. Is it logical or sane? Define sane in an insane world where 20 year old healthy girls just stop living for no diagnosed reason whatsoever.  I am not sure if I ever will stop looking for her.  I doubt it will be any time soon.

So here is a little neat psychological pathology for my readers.  Veterinarians have to provide euthanasia to diseased and suffering animals as a daily part of their profession. It is unavoidable and, for the most part, a truly important part of providing humane veterinary care.  The process is pretty smooth usually: I sedate the animal heavily, place an intravenous catheter, and then inject a rapidly fatal dose of barbiturates that stops the brain first, followed immediately by the majority of the body functions.  The one hold-out in the body is the respiratory muscles; they usually continue to operate by simple reflex for several minutes after death. It can give the casual observer the impression of life, but for us trained clinicians it is just a natural part of the dying process.  Unfortunately, I now know enough about Calista's death that the vague description of "strange breathing" the witnesses observed translates to me as simple post-mortem reflexive breathing. Calista was probably dead long before the ambulance ever arrived. We never had a chance. 

Now, every time I euthanize an animal I see that "strange" breathing and I think about her death.  Every time I pronounce an animal dead I run through the same check-list that appeared on her last medical records: cyanotic mucosa membranes, fixed, dilated pupils, absent heart contractions. I relive my daughter's death with every euthanasia and I have to provide that service on a daily basis.  That concrete wall is looming in front of this crazy train a little closer ever day now; something is bound to break.

By now everyone is probably sure that I am incapable of being objective about Calista.You all probably assume my overwhelming love for my daughter makes me overlook most of her shortcomings. That is likely true; everyone has shortcomings and parents tend not to see them in their children, preferring to paint their offspring as some sort of sainted angels. On the other hand, I would never pretend Calista was an angel; in fact, she could be a bit of a demon from time to time.

Calista was always severely lax when it came to simple housekeeping. Helping out around the house was just not her thing and I am not going to sugar-coat this: it irritated both her mother and I to no end.  She would rarely help to clean up after dinner and doing dishes was practically a new form of torture as far as she was concerned.  Throughout high-school there was always some extremely important homework assignment that was due practically the next moment that would call her away straight from the dinner table. I frequently arrived home quite late from work or from teaching karate at a local dojo to find the dishes still waiting for me in the sink. I never expected Roni to do them by herself;  I am not a "that's woman's work" kind of guy, but it would have been nice if Calista could have stepped up to the sink regularly.  On the same token, its kind of unfair to complain about it now; we let her slough off the work for years, so we made our own bed.  I laughed about it after she died; the first thing I did when we entered her empty apartment was clean the dishes left over from her last home meal. It seemed too sad to me to leave them soiled in the sink.

You would think that Calista's unwillingness to do laundry would be an issue, but my wife really liked doing that little thing for our daughter. After Calista died, one of the soothing things Roni did was wash and press Calista's laundry that was left in her apartment.  We did laugh quite hardily when we found new bottles of laundry detergent and softener sitting unopened and unused months after Roni had bought them for her newly emancipated daughter off to college.  Calista actually did bow to domesticity a wee bit by buying a fancy steaming system for pressing clothes (as an alternative to ironing I presume). I found her steamer hidden away in a trunk under her stairs; it might have been used once.  Roni tried it last week to see how it performed; she quickly gave up and was back at the ironing board after a few minutes.  I think she might have been ironing some of Calista's dress clothes.....just in case.

Cooking was a complete comedy show with Calista.  She rarely tried and when she did it was like watching one of those Hollywood reality shows depicting the pampered and useless starlet playing housewife.  She actually called her mother at work routinely for solutions to common sense problems most of us had figured out by seven. She called once when she wanted to make soup and had no idea how to operate the manual can opener. She called back about ten minutes later having got the can open, but having no idea how much water to add to the contents of the can (instructions were on the label).  Then there was the call to her mother on how to make hard-boiled eggs. Her chocolate chip cookies were tasty, but because she guessed at all the measurements on the ingredients, the cookies all melted together to fill the cookie sheet in one big blob of cookie crisp.  I was sure my poor girl was going to starve to death when she left for college.  Calista actually got top marks in her grade 11 cooking class because she partnered up with Adam, an old friend, who also worked part time as a short-order cook. And that brings us to boys.

The truth be known, Calista really had little use for boys. For the most part she considered them similar to buses, if she failed to connect with one, well, there was bound to be another coming down the road any time soon. Besides, she didn't need a bus, because she had a car (driven by Daddy).  I still remember being absolutely horrified when she started dating at 14. To make things worse, she was dating another member of her swim team who happened to have a mother who really could not stand either Roni or me. The boy happened to be a talented and dedicated competitive swimmer, so the liaison benefited Calista's swimming immensely (she was really focused during that eight month period), but I am pretty sure it permanently hurt our relationship with the boy and his mother. Especially when Calista decided to throw him over for one of his best friends and informed him of her decision by "text-messaging".  She cried that day when I told her that under no circumstances was she ever to do that again; she was to avoid dating boys on the swim team, she was to avoid dating "best friends" and she sure as hell was to never break up by "texting" again.  Of course, maybe it was all for the best since the next boy taught her everything she needed to know about teen-aged boys and probably saved her a lot of wasted time.

The next kid, "the best friend", was a pretty good catch for her right off the bat. He was bright, athletic, popular and handsome in his own way. She broke my first two rules (no swimmers and no best-friends), but the heart wants what the heart wants.  I didn't mind the kid actually, even though I was pretty sure he was more intent on my daughter's bra size than her IQ score. They were practically inseparable for nearly a year, but we noticed some deep cracks forming towards the end as the boy applied more pressure on her to "give it up" as the case may be. Calista was not about to discard her virginity at barely sixteen and he was desperate to test-drive his breeding equipment, so something had to snap.  The fiery break-up came in early September, just as the school year started and the competitive swim season began.  Calista's situation pretty much spiralled down the toilette for the rest of that year as an ex-boyfriend became a new stalker and co-opted all his friends into a campaign of bullying and harassment that was apparently invisible to everyone except Calista, Roni and me.

I am not sure of what is going on with boys these days.  When I was a teen-ager and I broke up with a girlfriend, I pretty much went out of my way to avoid contact with the girl any way I could. If it meant leaving town for the summer or playing  secret ninja until tempers cooled, that's what I did. Now days, the boys break-up and find a new girl-friend immediately, but then continue harassing the old girl-friend and being possessive over her. I half expect to see vagrant boys lifting their legs and peeing on trees to mark territory around their "ex's" house.  This particular boy tormented Calista until she quit competitive swimming altogether, threatened any boy that so much as talked to her and verbally abused any girl that remained friends with her.  He even physically threatened a clearly gay friend she used to go to movies with on the weekends. How insecure must a boy be to threaten an obviously gay boy who happens to befriend an ex girl-friend? 

One of the boys involved actually approached me a year later to offer his heart-felt apology; it was the original jilted boyfriend. He felt terrible because he had watched the harassment go on for most of the year and had not had the guts to step up and step in to stop it.  That boy became a man the day he came forward and shook my hand, at least in my eyes.

After that Calista pretty much swore off boys for nearly three years until the star-crossed Jared fell into her life. Even Jared had to work hard to prove his worth; I'm not sure she actually accepted any dates for over two months of courting from the boy. Jared must have been a pretty determined young man and, in the end, he proved his worth. As a couple, those two never fought and never seemed to be co-dependent to the point that they had no life without the other.  This is yet one more tragedy that has come from her loss.

Calista was possibly the worst driver I ever saw. She was so bad that she did not even know how bad she really was.  Teaching her to drive was absolutely terrifying.  Many a time I thankfully kissed the ground after one of our lessons, just glad to be alive.  As Calista drove anywhere, she would watch the road like a hawk, but she did not actually see the road or the traffic.  I am not sure if she ever realised that there is far more to driving than just operating a motor vehicle; you have to cooperate and interact with all the other people on the road at the same time.  To her, the laws of the road were kind of the like "The Pirates Code"; more general guidelines rather than actual rules. How an artist who presumably understood "colour between the lines" could not figure out the line down the centre of the road was more than just a suggestion I will never understand.  The little red Smart Car was a bow to her terrible driving.  The Smart Car is one of the safest vehicles on the road. It has sturdy Mercedes construction (those doors need slamming), a re-enforced roll cage surrounding the driver and it is incapable of really dangerous speeds. Furthermore, it would take a gifted Yoga practitioner to get pregnant in one of those cars; a true bonus to a man who was not ready to be a grandfather.  She did get progressively better at driving with experience, but the Smart Car remained a perfect Calista car right to the end. (Oh, and as far as I know, she never washed or cleaned out her car once in all the years she drove it; I guess that was my job...and I did it happily.)

Calista suffered from foot odour. Yes, foot odour.  She had several pairs of shoes that she described as "no longer house friendly". Liberally translated that means "something died in those shoes and it is now a rotting zombie".  In all fairness, her worst shoes were the many pairs of canvass high tops and skater shoes.  Canvass shoes always get pretty rank eventually.

Calista could be downright mean from time to time.  She was not mean very often, but, quite frankly, her nasty streak was predictable.  She could not suffer a whiner. Chronic complainers got about two chances with her and on the third strike she cut them off and basically finished the relationship with the classic words "Oh, just suck it up!!" She would have said that to Roni and me about a month ago if she were sitting in judgement.  Calista could not tolerate drug users or "Stoners" as she called them. Stoners did not even get a first chance with her; the first sign of marijuana use and you were given the short line to the door.  One poor girl in her photography class came to the first day of classes surrounded in a grey haze of cannabis fumes and Calista never even tried to be polite to her; I saw a note on Facebook from the girl trying to find some way to reconcile with my girl.  Calista never answered the very polite letter.  Alcohol was something Calista would just barely tolerate, but God help you if you drove while intoxicated.  That was a relationship finisher. Finally, her attitude to girls who just settled down and had babies with the first boy they came across out of high school was downright caustic.  She just could not see  "settling" as being a worthwhile lifestyle and she was pretty open with her attitude.  Diplomacy was not my girl's strong point by any means.

Finally, I have to admit that my darling daughter could be a wee bit arrogant and condescending from time to time. There were two instances that come to mind immediately, one which makes me smile while the other makes me grimace.  While Calista was living in Courtenay it snowed maybe three times. Courtenay gets a disgusting wet, greasy snow that challenges a person to walk safely much less drive.  When you consider that the majority of people living there do not have snow tires and rarely get experience snow driving at all, its a wonder that any of them leave the house at all when it snows.  The Smart Car is very good in the snow, we had winter tires installed on it every November, and Calista got her license driving in the ice and snow of Regina. To say she held the Courtenay drivers in contempt would be an understatement. She just could not fathom how the town would just shut right down the moment a few flakes flew and would crow her "snow driving" skills quite loudly.  Hubris, nothing but pure hubris.  Roni and I laughed and rolled our eyes because we knew the truth on her driving skills.  Calista was pretty confident in her computing skills. Sometimes she liked to lord her skills at the keyboard over Roni and I and we would just smile and tolerate it. The problem is that she tended to be a bit condescending with the clinic staff, not realising the visual of a 20 year old girl playing school-marm to women older than her mother was not very appealing.  I had to ask her to tune it down a notch several times while she worked at the clinic. I notice now that many of the helpful instructional notes she left behind have been quietly discarded and replaced with less irritating and more helpful lists now. Perhaps we could have done a better job preparing her for the corporate workplace where she would have to deal with people of all ages, not just her generation.

Some people may find my frank assessment of Calista a wee bit surprising.  Up till now I have portrayed her as pretty much a perfect angel sent from above to save us all from bad taste and poor art.  Some people may think that I might love her less because of these supposed shortcomings.  Not so.  I loved everything about that girl (Ok: the canvass sneakers stored in my garage not all that much) and it was perhaps her shortcomings that I loved the most.  Its kind of like watching that dreadful show "American Idol": the singers with perfect pitch and flawless tone all seemed so vanilla and boring to me, while the singers with some special, unique flaw were the performers that I always cheered for.  Calista was unique and her rough edges were important parts of that individuality.  It's the nature of this world: you cannot have the good without the bad, the "yin" without the "yang".

 It comes back to my earlier post where I quoted Garth Brooks song "The Dance": I could have done without the pain, but then, I would have had to miss the dance.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Two Months, Five Days: A Circle of Friends.

Today was a pretty tough day; weekends are always tough. We have time to think and get inside ourselves, always bad for the bereaved. Calista would normally be home for the weekend, doing laundry (or having Roni do it), getting her fill of cable TV and eating three squares a day.  She would also have camped out at Coast Fitness all Saturday, scoring as many fitness classes as she could. All that fitness and what did it get her? Dead at twenty.

My older brother Ivor called me today; he had received and completed a preliminary review of Calista's medical records of her last living moments.  The hospital did everything they could and maybe a few things that were beyond the call of duty. The medical records were insufficient to diagnose her cause of death exactly, but Long QT syndrome remains in the running.  Her initial ECG reading showed ventricular tachycardia with some prolonged QT segments, but nothing immediately fatal. It should have been convertible to normal rhythm with the applied electric shocks.  Subsequent rhythm traces showed a deteriorating condition as if some overwhelming toxicity was circulating and causing progressive damage. Of course, by that time, after over forty minutes of practically no circulation, there were all sorts of toxins building up in her blood stream. In fact, by the time she reached the hospital, declaring her dead was likely a mercy.  If they had revived her body, her  beautiful mind would have been permanently vegetative.

If there is a solution to this mystery, my brothers Dana and Ivor will figure it out.

Friends were such an important part of Calista's life, without meeting some of them, a reader would be left with less than half of the story. From the beginning, when she stood upon the couch in our front window at 409 Cook in Whitehorse bemoaning her "fwends" from the daycare, her comrades were probably as important to her as her parents.  Unfortunately, with my crazy long hours at work, I met so few of her circle that I am left with just a few characters to give you, but they may be the most important friends she ever had.

At North Island College Calista immediately fell in with  a tight knit group of young women in their early twenties. She was the youngest of the bunch, just nineteen at the beginning of the college year.  They were all, at heart, artists and photographers, so they had common ground; they spoke a common language.  Of course it helped also that they also loved animals and would have entire conversations about how they wanted to be reincarnated as cats in the next life. I know that Calista would be a really great cat; an animal who likes to sleep 18 hours a day and have her every whim catered to by hapless parents. Of course, the whole eating raw mice probably would have been an issue with the princess.

I never actually met any of Calista's friends for the first six months of her course at NIC.  I just heard about them in detail. Every call home contained another adventure with the girls: photo shoots in used sporting goods stores smelling of mould and unwashed hockey gear, late night movie outings and dance parties (documented on her iPhone). The names I heard were always the same girls: Jesse, Kareen, Amanda and Hannah. There is a natural rhythm to the names and they just felt right together.  Somewhere along the way I started to think of the group of them as "The Musketeers", inseparable friends with a common mission.

Over Christmas Calista told me that her friend Jesse had an injured dog which she was financially unable to get repaired. "Lucky", sporting the most unfortunate name a pet can possibly have, had ruptured his cranial cruciate ligament and as a result, probably destroyed the meniscus in his knee.  The border collie was unable to use the leg much by that point and if it went on much longer, I believed he would be permanently crippled.  As a favour to a friend of Calista, I offered to repair the knee at a substantial discount.  I am sure that my staff got a kick out of the notation on the bill: "Friend of Calista Discount".  This is how I met Jesse; she came and stayed with us in Powell River as I implanted an artificial ligament in her dog.

I cannot say I was completely surprised by Jesse. I knew she was an accomplished landscape photographer, so I sort of expected an outdoorsy type. Indeed, Jesse is a quiet  relatively tall, blond girl who prefers to dress in basic colours, loose fitting  comfortable clothes and sensible shoes. Calista and her made quite a team; the fashion forward princess with her mentor woodsman to introduce her to the west coast ways. Jesse was certainly the young woman we heard the most about; Calista spoke about her photography in practically worshipful terms and actually had bought a quite expensive photography magazine just to have a copy of one of Jesse's award winning photos.

I cannot say how grateful I am that Jesse came along.  I have photos of Calista playing on the snow of Mount Washington that even at my lowest ebb make me laugh (albeit through the tears).  She is wearing snowshoes and trying to run, jump and I swear at one point the group of them are dancing.  Calista went camping with Jesse the weekend before her last trip home and actually loved it. Despite the whole outhouse experience.  Even dealing with her prejudice against public washrooms (and really, does anyone like public outhouses?) was a comedy routine. The hapless Lucky was shanghaied by Calista into inspecting the outhouse prior to her entry; just in case there was a bogey man hiding in the hole.  I am sure that Calista setting up a tent was amusing, at least to the outdoor-ready Jesse.  Jesse's mom Anne even made a run at teaching Calista how to ride a bike, something she never mastered in Regina with it's 8 months of snow and cold. Anne failed as everyone before her had, but I do have a picture of Calista trying, laughing the entire time and really appearing to enjoy herself. I have to believe that Jesse had a lot to do with the metamorphosis Calista underwent those last 8 glorious months.

My only regret with Jesse is that I was the one to inform her that Calista had died and I did it in such a poor way that it had to be devastating to the young woman.  There are words that can never be unsaid, no matter how hard one wishes.  From the first few moments after I was notified of her death, completing her college certificate became my immediate reason to live.  I had no idea what projects were outstanding and how much work completing the certificate would entail, but I was sure Jesse would know everything and be willing to help.  I called her that afternoon and asked her to send me a list of Calista's outstanding projects and where I might find any work she had done on the assignments.  Jesse replied, with growing confusion, "Why not just ask Calista".  I paused, caught my breath, and replied "Oh God Jesse. I am so sorry. I didn't realise you didn't know yet".

"I didn't know what?"

There was a long pause while I pulled myself back under control....and then I just told her everything.

I didn't know until weeks later that she was home alone and that it was hours before her parents arrived to comfort her.

 As I said above, there are things that can never be undone no matter how hard you wish.

The other three girls that I knew the most about I never met until after Calista had died. More is the pity; I would have liked to meet these girls in much better times to completely see the joy in their hearts that Calista described to us. The whole troop came over to Powell River the Sunday following her death to pay their respects. They will never know how much we appreciated the effort. It made all the difference in those horrible first few days.

Amanda is the eldest of the Musketeers. At 26, Amanda seems to be the most organised and determined of the bunch.  She is a woman who knows what she wants and really does seem to know how to get it. For Calista, Amanda's claim to fame was her family's beautiful home down on the water near the ferry docks at Little River. Calista used to leave her little red Smart Car at Amanda's during her "home weekends" and just walk-on to the ferry, saving herself close to 60 dollars in ferry fare. Calista also liked to go down to Amanda's during the winter storms to watch the waves crash onto the beach. Prairie girls can be easy to entertain sometimes. Amanda's claim to fame with Roni and I was her amazing organisational skills as we arranged Calista's memorial. Amanda found a photography studio and arranged with Karen, the owner, to hold the memorial there (it helped that Karen was an NIC instructor and knew Calista), she sent Roni and I a list of caterers, and she worked all day decorating the studio perfectly. Without the Little General, I am not sure anything productive would have come of my efforts. Instead, the memorial was a truly beautiful goodbye to my little girl.

Amanda was the poor fool that ended up partnered with Calista for the black and white film course segment. The girls had to share an old but serviceable 35mm SLR loaded with some high speed black and white film that we had bought specially from a supply warehouse in Vancouver.  The first trip out was to a used sporting-goods store to photograph heavily used sports gear.  The first thing Amanda and Calista noticed was the overwhelming smell of old sweat and mildew emanating from the piles of hockey gear that filled the store. The immediate decision was to get-in, get-out and get it over with before both girls died of asphyxiation.  Unfortunately, neither girl counted on Calista's obsession with perfect composition (thanks to months of tutoring by one Jack Cowin). Calista became mesmerised with some old roller skates from the derby days of the eighties and near them, hung on some rafters, some ancient leather boxing gloves.  Instead of a drive-by photo shoot, poor Amanda had to sit by patiently while Calista spent the next hour trying to get the perfect shot in the low light conditions.  She also got to return to that same stinky store the following day and, I believe, the day after that because Princess Perfectionist still did not get the perfect shot she saw in her mind's eye.  I have that photo series stored in her portfolio here at the house; the final results were likely worth the effort . (one shot of boxing gloves went to her old beau Jared)

Hannah was another girl I heard many stories about.  Hannah was Calista's foil when it came to religious matters. You see, Hannah was a very strict Baptist Christian, which made her a perfect target for Calista's fervent and outspoken atheism.  After twelve years of a relatively strict Catholic curriculum, Calista was pretty clear on what her beliefs were and they did not come from a dusty book of unclear origins. Calista really did believe that ones morals should come from a rigid personal code rather than any external source. This perhaps explains Calista's very rigid morals: no free sex, no free alcohol, no free drugs, and no free ride were pretty much her personal motto.  Poor Hannah likely bore the brunt of many of Calista's caustic comments on organised religion.  The most humorous of these situations came from the famous engagement announcement.

Calista was always the first to class, usually by at least fifteen minutes. She would be already hard at work organising her day by the time most of her classmates meandered through the door.  One Monday Hannah arrived second to class, bubbling with joy and wanting to tell someone, anyone, the big news.  She pounced on her friend Calista, hastily erupting that she had gotten engaged that weekend. Calista just looked at her dumbfounded, no reply whatsoever.  Other people arrived in groups of twos and threes, and Hannah turned to tell everyone else her big news. Thirty minutes pass as the class settles into work. Finally, Calista stands up, slowly walks over to where Hannah was sitting and looks her in the eye. Calista says:

"I've thought about it. I guess I am Ok with you getting engaged.  Even if you are only twenty-one....I'm not a huggy type person, but I'll let you hug me if you want."

The following day Calista gave Hannah a condolence card.  I assumed that the condolences were for her rather despicable first reaction for the announcement rather than the engagement itself, but now I am not so sure. I guess we will never know for sure.

The last of the Musketeers to meet is poor Kareen. Kareen was one of the tight core consisting of Calista, Jesse and herself.  Those three were so inseparable that Boomer, the instructor, had taken to calling them "The Three Amigos" (of Disney fame). The three seemed to feed off of each other, finding inspiration and support while pushing each other to greater heights.  They also seemed to thrive on being just a little irreverent in everything they did.  I guess there was at least one photo shoot where they broke into an impromptu dance party: "I'm so Sexy" in the forest made everyone laugh, including Boomer.

Kareen was unfortunate enough to be the hostess of the bar-b-cue the night before Calista died.  She was the person that convinced Calista to sleep over rather than test the new, strict blood alcohol levels for driving. Kareen was one of the unfortunate souls who tried so very hard to give Calista CPR when her heart stopped functioning properly.  I'm not sure Kareen knows the success ratio of CPR, but someone should tell her that CPR has less than a ten percent chance of success if help is more than fifteen minutes away. She was sure, even as the paramedics were loading my daughter into the ambulance that this was all just a speed bump and that Calista would be back smiling and trading war stories that evening.  The possibility that big, strong irrepressible Calista could die never crossed her mind.

When Kareen appeared at my door that sad Sunday after Calista died, I could see the apprehension in her eyes. She, no doubt, felt that Calista's parents might hold her somewhat responsible for her death. She entirely misjudged the situation. We were grateful to Kareen.

The second words out of my mouth to Constable Kenning was to ask if she had been alone when she died. I could not face the idea that she was alone in her apartment, scared and unloved during her last moments.  It came as a huge relief to both Roni and I to know that she was surrounded by friends all trying to save her at the end. I hugged Kareen as she introduced herself, welcomed her into our home and asked her to tell her story. I remain indebted to Kareen; she cared for my girl enough to make her stay and she cared enough to try to save her. She stood her ground when Calista needed her the most and that counts for a lot.

The girls have all gone their separate ways for the summer. Jesse is isolated at an exclusive resort for wealthy yacht owners, catering to them as they ply the waters just east of Norther Vancouver Island. Amanda is working for Karen, owner of the "memorial" studio and Kareen is immersed in helping out an interior designer fulfil diverse commitments throughout the Comox valley. I had hoped to keep in touch with the "Musketeers" as a bridge to Calista (there is a word I learnt at the grief counsellor today), but I realise that, for everyone else, life is moving on. I cannot expect young women with an entire world to conquer to act as crutches for two broken middle-aged parents looking for a way back home.

Without Calista, neither Roni, nor I have a home anymore.
kareen, jesse, calista, and amanda

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Nine Weeks, One Day: Society, Sexism, and Hypocrisy

Just over two months since Calista left for her Roman holiday. Her schedule was an overnight to Frankfurt, then a quick jump to over the mountains to Milan for a month of following the fashion shows behind the camera lens, then a three week sojourn in Rome just to soak up the atmosphere before finishing her grand tour with four weeks in the Greek Islands. Just to make sure she was properly golden brown before returning home.  That's my story and I am sticking to it. If I tell myself long enough and sincerely enough, that fairy tale will become my reality and this whole nightmare will be over with.  I always told my girl that if you can't impress with brilliance then you should baffle with bullshit; even if the audience is yourself.  I want to be baffled now.

The experience of losing a child is just so much different for a father versus a mother. It must be because that is what everyone has told me.  Father's supposedly rebound faster and are generally less upset by the whole experience. It probably is because women have that special bond with the child; they carried that child for nine months as a foetus and they were the primary care giver for all those years while the husband was really just a third party observer. And really, women are the more empathetic and emotional sex who are the centre of everything good and right in the world.....and if you keep on telling yourself that you will be just as deluded as I am with my Roman holiday scenario.

I guess I should be used to society's blatant sexism when it comes to parenthood by now.  I have dealt with it throughout Calista's life, so why should it be different after her death?  Roni was always the primary legal guardian for all health matters; we were told that this was the normal custom and we could not have "joint" guardianship.  Roni was the only parent allowed access to Calista's bank accounts. I was allowed to deposit into the accounts but I was never even allowed to have the balance on the accounts even one minute after making a substantial contribution to the college account. When asked why, since I was her father, the bank replied that I needed proof that I was a custodial parent before they could give me any access.  I never bothered making that effort; it was far easier to ask Roni to check it next time she was in the bank. In the end Roni was the assumed beneficiary of Calista's estate; it's nice that the bank was at least consistent.

While there is no doubt that I did spend a lot of time at work while Roni did the "At-Home Mom" career track, but that period only covered the first two years we lived in Regina. Prior to our move to Regina my veterinary clinic adjoined our home, so I was pretty much an involved dad.  I was responsible for doctor's visits and vaccination trips, I covered while Roni had some personal time to play racquetball, and I probably fed and changed diapers almost as often as Roni. Ours was an equal opportunity household: if you noticed or smelled a dirty diaper, it was your turn to change.  I even got to be a single dad for a five week stretch when Calista was two while Roni lived with my big sister in Los Angeles to pursue a new career. That five weeks was really great; we had the world's worst nanny (hired on the basis of being the homeliest young woman Roni could find) and Calista and I bonded. We watched untold hours of boxing (my choice) and motorcycle night racing (strangely, her choice) and fell asleep together every night reading some children's books. There is no way anyone can tell me that I was not close with my daughter. That is why it bothers me that people naturally assume that my wife was terribly wounded in this tragedy, while I am just the helpless bystander who has to help her recover.  Who the hell is helping me recover while I help her?

Certainly I have handled my grief differently. I jumped into action almost immediately, planning memorials, starting scholarship funds, writing blogs and organising photo contests. Roni, on the other hand, has withdrawn into herself, stopped eating and generally has become depressed and only minimally functional. People assume that I am recovering while she is still dangerously stressed. On the other hand, I would have to point out that if any of us owned a frantically manic dog who was running around getting into everything, digging holes everywhere and chewing up all his toys we would diagnose him as suffering from separation anxiety and load him up with Clomicalm or Prozac.  Indeed, of course I am suffering from separation anxiety. The one person I cannot live without and the one job I truly loved are both gone with the wind.  My behaviour is no more normal than Roni's; it's just more productive.  On the other hand, Roni pointed out the other night that if I am any more "productive" I will be bankrupt within the year. Making big dreams happen can cost a lot of money.

The fact of the matter is that I could not have reacted to my daughter's death in any other way; my personality, my upbringing and society's expectations have all trained me, as a man, to react exactly this way. It is practically demanded of every man that he act and react rather than retreat and regroup as my wife is doing.  Truthfully, I watch my wife and I believe that her reaction is much more natural and probably, in the long run, far healthier.  She is taking some time right now to remember and heal, to emerge later healthier, more competent and possibly happier. I, on the other hand, am feeling progressively more stretched and stressed. I can see a great concrete wall approaching quickly and if I am not allowed to back off my frenetic pace, something will have to give. It may be my physical health or it may be my mental health, but something will break. In the mean time, I just continue juggling chainsaws (I saw a guy do that once; he had all his fingers still, but he did comment how stupid the trick was).

I am not really crying "sexism" here; I will leave that to the combative souls that insist on seeing everything in the world as black and white.  We can talk about "nature" versus "nurture" all we want, but in the end it is still the same result: women and men react to emotional assaults such as death differently. Neither is right or wrong; they are just different. On the other hand, both Roni and I kind of get a kick out of people continually asking me how poor Roni is doing and what I am doing to support her in her time of need. You see, we both know what goes on behind closed doors.

One of Calista's high school friends sent a short poem enclosed in a condolence card. I have yet to make it past the first stanza.  I start crying at about the fourth line and usually need to sit down with the folded paper held limply in my hand. I am not sure why this particular memorial hits me so hard, but it does.  The memorial is a religious piece addressed to God above. It tells of a bewildered young girl suddenly cut adrift in heaven, alone for the first time in her life.  I have no idea what it speaks of after that because that is where my reading stops every time. You see, it was always my job to have Calista's back; I was her mentor, her escort and her body-guard. Where ever she was, whatever she was doing, she always knew that she only needed to call my name and I would be there.  Sometimes it meant leaving work, sometimes it meant driving at breakneck speeds across town, but she always could count on me to come running.  This time, the one time it really counted I was not there and now, if there is a hereafter, she is truly and always alone.  In this I have finally failed.

Please, don't tell me that my grief is less because I am a man.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Eight Weeks, Four Days: The Wide Blue Straights

My desire to become a writer was born back in high school when my favourite English teacher hammered home grammar and told me that I had potential if I could learn to spell. I never did learn to spell and I ended up being a veterinarian, so the writer inside me went to sleep.  Until now.  I wish more than anything that I had taken up writing for the same reasons other empty-nesters start putting pen to paper; middle-aged angst and boredom. Of course, like every other empty-nester, I have an empty bedroom but mine is staying empty forever and theirs will remain empty until the clean laundry runs out.

I have several authors I love, but for different reasons.  I have a lot of Hemingway, but I am not sure if I like his writing. I collect and read Hemingway to try to figure out what made him "the Great Hemingway".  Much of what he wrote I am just confused by, but I do try to emulate him by keeping my sentences shorter than I used to. My father introduced me to Raymond Chandler, master of the drug-store pulp-fiction.  The thing I loved about Chandler was that his scene development was so perfect you could practically smell the mould in the orchid greenhouse as the detective "got the scoop".  James Lee Burke, the best-selling author of the "Dave Robichaux" mysteries, has that same talent: his swamps and bayou scenes are hot and steamy. You feel like you  are in Louisiana smelling the bass fish spawning. Reading these authors I am reminded of my English teacher's description of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness": a novel where the central character is the dark African river which winds through the entire story.

Today, as I mowed the lawn in the crisp early morning air, I realised that I have written 34 posts without one reference to where we live, where Calista came to go to school and where Calista died.  I doubt I will do my favourite authors any justice, but it really is unfair to both my readers and this beautiful corner of the world that I have omitted all description of Powell River and Comox.

Calista was born in the deep, cold valleys of the Yukon, but she really grew up a prairie girl in Regina, Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan really is beautiful, but it is a subtle sort of beauty that one has to immerse themselves in to enjoy. To the westerners in BC it is nothing but flat barren farmlands, while a native son sees the rolling ocean of grass, they smell the rich black soil as the wind swirls it off the tilled fields and they love the ever changing sky. Mountain dwellers see the apparently infinite horizon and never seem to look up and see the living sky; the prairie's answer to the mountains of the west.  I am not sure Calista ever looked up because once she saw the mountains of her birth her heart was lost to them; regardless of where her parents ended up, she belonged in the west, on the coast, with the sea wind in her hair and the mountains above.

Once Jack Cowin and Calista had finally determined that my girl's destiny indeed was photography, they started to cast about for schools that were worthwhile. Jack wanted Calista in a focused program where her down-to-earth need for functionality would be served. He just could not see her thriving in a formal university program. Jack contacted several of the more prestigious schools in the American Midwest and they all offered to look at her work just on Jack's recommendation. Roni was terrified that Calista would end up in Chicago, far from us and on the wrong side of the border. I was terrified I would have to decline Jack's generosity simply because my bank account could not afford American tuition. Calista had other ideas in mind: she looked west and found North Island College, a small campus in a coastal town of Vancouver Island.

I had hit a glass ceiling with my career. I was too old to purchase the large clinic I was working for; the bank rightfully assessed that I would never be able to pay off the considerable loan within the remainder of my career.  I was too well paid to ever be employed elsewhere for more money. My back was in a corner and the only hope was to purchase a smaller clinic with a lesser price and hopefully make it profitable enough to fund my retirement and Calista's education.  Since our Calista was heading west, we looked west toward Comox. Comox would fit perfectly; my girl could go to school and I could finish off my career near where I grew up. And I would never have to worry about frostbite or wind-chill factor again.

Comox is a small town about three hours north of Victoria and one hour north of the ferry docks at Nanaimo.  The major industry of Comox is the military base there, but there are so many things going for that area that I suspect that it is the next great discovery of the retiring baby-boomer generation.  The twinned towns of Courtenay and Comox centre around a river estuary (the Comox river). Courtenay lies inland while Comox starts on the coastal side of the river.  Hanging above the towns is the towering mountain chain that cuts down the centre of Vancouver Island. The crown jewel of the Comox valley is the Comox Glacier, visible from every corner of both Comox and Courtenay.  The last time I spent with Calista in Comox, back in February, she laughed as she pulled out of her apartment and commented how she could barely believe it was that view was what she woke up to ever clear morning. It must have been spectacular to see as the first rays of the sun bounced off the massive white expanse of the hanging glacier.

In the summer of 2009 Roni, Calista and I travelled west to scout out business prospects in southern BC.  Our goal was to find something in close proximity to one of Calista's college prospects, so Comox was on our short list.  Sure enough there was a small animal clinic for sale when we enquired and we arranged a walk through.  If nothing else, a site-seeing trip to Vancouver Island with a ferry ride over the wide, blue Straights of Georgia would be a nice holiday outing for the family.

Arriving in Comox we scouted the area like a troop of army rangers. We reconnoitred the business prospect, the shopping potential, and the real-estate. The overwhelming beauty of the valley and the twinned towns caught us off-guard, but I think the final straw was when we stopped at a beach park along the estuary and were amused to read a sign warning us to leave baby seals on the beach should we find one alone.  Baby seals.  Calista was like a ten year old kid begging for a puppy.  We had not even looked at the college campus and she had found her home.  She was not too concerned if it was "our home", but it was definitely hers.

The clinic was a winner, though it was right at the very edge of our price range. I knew I was going to have to pull every string I knew to swing the financing for the million dollar sale price, but my family was pretty much determined that they had found their home. (Ok; more specifically: Calista was moving to Comox, Roni was following her and I could follow if they let me.).  We checked out the college campus and North Island College really is one of a kind. Nestled in a grove of pine trees, the buildings are all a matching group of cedar shake clad "Craftsman" style structures which, in a mixture of soft pastel browns and reds, blend well with the forest surroundings. The campus is tiny, perhaps less than ten buildings loosely connected by covered walk-ways and paved trails. There was a very nice public recreational centre just at the edge of the campus and well developed residential neibourhoods suggested that finding a new house would be no challenge. If all went well, the Flemings would have a new home town within a few short months.

Things did not go well in the least. Negotiations on the sale were botched from the moment go as the agent for the vendor provided us with hopelessly inaccurate documents, the vendor switched his mind as often as he changed underwear, and the bank seemed to waffle hopelessly on whether they would back me at all.  After approaching several banks we finally found a Comox branch that would back us, but by this time the vendor had decided I was a bad gamble and was no longer bargaining in good faith.  Finally, late one night with tears in her eyes, Roni told me that she was done with this and we should just drop the whole deal and settle back into our lives in Regina. I agreed; the stress was opening cracks in our marriage and without a happy wife, there is no hope for a happy life. I take great satisfaction knowing that the vendor has not sold that clinic at any price to this date.

Roni and I settled back into our routine life, she commuting to a law firm downtown and me returning to my associate job at a nice clinic in South Regina.  My professional situation was far from comfortable; my new, young boss was at a complete loss as to what to do with this ageing, greying associate only slightly younger than her own father. I was an expensive asset, earning just barely enough to justify keeping. The writing was on the wall and Roni and I understood that we were working on borrowed time.  Calista was still headed west regardless. Finally, an old friend, Joe Colontino, called us with a lead on a small clinic in a tiny village near Comox that was selling for a very affordable sum.  Enter Powell River, British Columbia.

Powell River was, in the not too distant past, the home of the largest pulp and paper mill in the world. It has everything that the pulp industry needs: easy ocean access to receive abundant logs to pulp, unlimited fresh water for the mill and to provide hydro-electric power and Vancouver only 80 miles to the south to provide global markets and a ready labour force. The one rub is that Powell River is practically an island; surrounded on three sides by deep ocean passages and walled by the jagged coastal mountain ranges on the fourth.

Anybody looking at the map could be forgiven for thinking that Powell River is "just a hop, skip and jump" from Vancouver. Certainly, the air time of the tiny 18 seat turbo-prop aeroplanes that service our airport is only 20 minutes to Vancouver and on the map Powell River really is "just about there".  The problem is that Powell River really is one of those places that "you just can't get there from here", at least not by road. No matter how you travel, the only practical way to drive to Vancouver from Powell River is to take two ferries and cover miles of winding, narrow highway. Vancouver is decidedly not "just a hop, skip and jump" away. But, once you arrive in Powell River you are truly on a little island of paradise.

From Saltery Bay in the south to Lund to the north, there is only 50 kilometres of paved highway. Lund is the northern terminus of the famous number 101 that extends all the way to the tip of South America.  Here, near Powell River, the highway threads along the western edge of the Coastal mountains, barely two cars wide and never straight.  To the east of the highway is a vast wilderness made of mile high peaks separated by massive fresh water lakes that wind around the base of the mountains. The lake system is a huge chain forming an arc looping inland from a point near Saltery Bay, through a series of connecting valleys and exiting to the north at the headwaters of Powell River. Powell River itself is the shortest terminal river (as in "exiting into the sea") in Canada, being less than one mile long.  A determined canoeist can cover the entire circuit in under 7 days, though they better be prepared to undertake some pretty demanding portages to complete the circuit.

If that canoeist does complete the circuit, they can be assured of seeing some of the most spectacular, pristine mountain scenery found anywhere in Canada. The Knucklehead Mountains, site of some world-class rock climbing, tower over the canoe route, and the steep, rocky terrain limits road access to the entire area, so the intrepid canoeist might be the only person on the lake route on any given day. This is just a taste of what the area has to offer.

Lund is the last port at the gateway to Desolation Sound, an inland fjord so extensive that Captain George Vancouver thought it might be the entrance to the fabled North West Passage when he first sailed these waters. Desolation Sound has become a destination for boaters globally due to the easy access to idyllic, isolated anchorages in crystal clear water filled with marine sealife.  The world under the sea is another reason to come to this part of the world.

The Powell River area is renowned for its crystal clear waters and it's abundance of both fauna and flora.  Giant Pacific Octopuses, sea anemones,  urchins, crabs, fish of all species and any number of marine mammals crowd our waters. You rarely look out on the harbour without seeing a seal, sea lions are considered a bit of a pest (a 2000 pound highly territorial pest), Pacific White Sided Dolphins are once again abundant, and Orca whale sightings are relatively common.  Unfortunately, the best diving is done in the cold of winter when the waters most clear. The water remains cold year around, but it really is quite unpleasant to dive off that boat when the air temperature hovers just above freezing. You know you are not returning to the surface to warm-up quickly in the summer sun.

The climate here is the one thing that Calista and her mother really took issue with. It's a temperate rain forest.  And it does rain a lot. One heck of a lot. Practically all the time in winter.  The developers of this area must have had some sense of irony when they named this coastal refuge "The Sunshine Coast".  Sure, we are marginally drier than Vancouver, and we get far less snow that Comox, but we still get what can be best described as torrential downpour for the majority of the months between the end of October and the end of June. Heck, even the summer is pretty darn wet here. Of course with all that rain comes both good and bad. The forests here literally define " the deep dark forest" of Brothers Grimm fame; the trees grow quickly and tall, choking off the sun from the floor below and allowing only the native Salal vine and some ferns to survive. When that forest is cleared for housing development what is left behind is a barren soil devoid of all nutrients which barely grows grass much less anything else. Deforestation of the rain forest is a tragedy everywhere, not just in the Brazilian jungles.

My house in Powell River is a new bungalow, sitting separated from my neighbours by empty lots on both sides. My driveway is about the steepest grade allowable and if we do get the odd skiff of snow in the winter, my Mustang basically just becomes an expensive out-of-control sled coming down to the street.  Calista  laughed the first time she saw the house perched up on the hill; she said she had no idea she was coming to live atop Mount Olympus. If I stand in my front windows and look west, craning my neck just a little bit to see around the northern tip of Texada Island, I can see Little River Docks, the Comox ferry terminal. The day Calista died I spent hours sitting at that window, staring across the wide blue straights of Georgia, willing my girl to just come home.  I still look out that window daily, dreaming for a moment that the ferry will bring her home.

This Sunday, rather than just sitting around moping, Roni and I took some excursions to find some of the favourite beaches of Powell River. Getting out of the house seemed like a great idea at the time, but we both quickly became quite morose. We were doing things that we would have preferred to be doing with Calista and each new discovery just marked one more thing that we did not get to do with our girl.

Much of the pain involved in her loss is the slow realisation that things really are not going to get better. This new reality is a permanent situation; it will not pass.  Somehow, I think, all of us survive adversity because we understand that tough times never last but tough people do.  These tough times are guaranteed to end, but only at the end of my life. That might be a very long time.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Eight Weeks, One Day: Causes of Death

I might post an entry to my blog on a Monday or a Tuesday, and Wednesdays are nice. Fridays are Ok and either day of the weekend is fine. But never on a Thursday. I won't do Thursdays because that is the day the wounds open up and Roni needs my support completely. Posting on a Thursday would feel like walking on Her ashes.

I know my title suggests that I might know something today that I did not know before, but that would be lying. We still have no idea what killed Calista and we probably never will. Idle speculation and suspicions are just the results of a grief stricken fool grasping at any straws he can to find meaning in his barren life.  On the other hand, I have had some good suggestions from wonderful people.

I have bandied around the idea that Calista was taken by one of these rare cardiac arrhythmias that we see in young people periodically. Typically the story runs something like this "Young star athlete collapses suddenly while jogging back down the soccer field".  Usually the story has a special section explaining where the funeral/ memorial is to be held and where to send the donations or flowers. Once in a rare while there is a happy ending because a good EMT or a great Doctor recognised the symptoms of acute exercise induced cardiac arrhythmia and pulled out the defibrillator. These arrhythmias can occur at any time, but typically occur when the young person is active or under the influence of adrenalin. The most common arrhythmia (or the one I found the most references on) was something called Long QT syndrome.

I am not sure if I had any awareness of "Long QT" syndrome until one of my colleagues at a private veterinary web forum suggested that Calista might have died from this uncommon problem, but I vaguely knew about athletes dying young suddenly. Here is my round-about, highly inaccurate description of the heart cycle and how Long QT might kill your child.

If you can think of the heart as just a big electrical pump that contracts as a wave of electricity moves through the pump sequentially, this will work well for you. Picture a crowd of fans at a Saskatchewan Roughrider football game (I show my bias) and they all decide to cheer their team by doing "the wave". The fans all start by standing up (relaxing the heart muscle) and then the fans at the North end of the stadium sit down quickly first, followed row by row until the wave reaches the South end of the stadium and they are all seated (heart muscle contraction). Then everybody stands up again almost at the same time (heart muscle relaxation). The rate of the wave travelling down the stadium (always in the same direction) depends on how long people remains standing between "waves". When the wave is going slow (slow heart rate) the fans stay standing for longer, when the wave is going very fast, they are basically just jumping up and down. The rate of standing up and sitting down always stays about the same, it's the amount of time the fans stay "relaxed" that determines the rate of the successive "waves" (heart rate). 

Now here is some important points (not related to Calista, but interesting none the less). The only time the fans get to breath, eat and drink beer are when they are standing, relaxed. If they are jumping up and down constantly, they go hungry and get out of breath. Doing the wave rapidly for long periods of time just tires out the fans and, of course, beer sales plummet. The situation is bad for everyone all the way around.  Now, take this analogy a little farther. Maybe the fans start drinking early and get quite drunk by half-time (middle aged man?) and now the wave is getting pretty sloppy as fans start falling over drunk. This would be somewhat comparable to cardiomyopathy. On the other hand, maybe the game started with a few renegade Winnipeg Blue-Bomber fans mixed in with the hometown crowd; these guys are intent on screwing up the "wave" cheer, but they are just biding their time, waiting for a likely opportunity to strike. Either  way, they are planning on destroying the organised wave pattern by hopping around randomly and disrupting the orderly cheer. Maybe their best time to strike is when things are really chaotic and exciting in the stands, like at the one yard line with only one down left. This is comparable to Long QT syndrome: a congenital abnormality you harbour for your whole life, waiting for an opportune time to strike and ruin the organised wave of your heart's contractions.

Doctors record the electrical wave through the heart with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG depending on whether you insist on traditional German being used). The ECG is broken into the "p" wave, the "QRS" wave, and the "T" wave, which basically translate to "trigger", "contraction" and "relaxation" (not exactly by any means but who wants to go back to school now?). The spaces between these waves are "the intervals". The QT interval is the space between the beginning of the ventricular (bottom of the heart) contraction and the relaxation of the whole heart.  Now remember back when I compared this whole thing to a crowd sitting down and standing up: the time it took to do both was always constant no matter how fast the wave was cheering. The innate intervals of the heart cycle are usually constant, its the time the heart remains relaxed that determines the heart rate. If the innate intervals alter or change sporadically, then the heart gets out of proper synchronisation and pumps that aren't synchronised don't work.

Obviously this is a pretty simplistic view of cardiology, but I'm not exactly Einstein, so it's the best you are going to get. 

Long QT syndrome is characterised by,,you guessed it...a long QT interval.  The syndrome is usually congenital, passed from parent to child genetically, but it is not truly just one disease. There are many variations on the Long QT syndrome, each with it's own inheritance.  Almost all the syndromes are associated with sudden death in people under thirty, and many or most of those deaths occur during athletic activity. It seems that excitement with the accompanying natural secretion of adrenalin increases the likelyhood of the prolonged QT interval inducing chaos in the natural synchronisation of the heart and inducing a potentially fatal bout of ventricular tachycardia. The version of "V-Tach" they see is my favourite (because it sounds so exotic) "Torsade de Points", or, in English, "Fence of Points". An  ECG that looks like a fence of points is a clinician's nightmare; the patient is about to die without immediate intervention.  You might get that intervention on a soccer pitch or at a hockey rink with thousands of spectators, but it's just not happening at a private house in the early morning hours surrounded by a few friends with no medical training.

Diagnosing Long-QT syndrome is not easy in the least.  Prolonged QT intervals are not always apparent in a patient with the syndrome and not all patients that demonstrate prolonged QT intervals have the syndrome. Furthermore, while the disease is known to be inheritable, a parent does not always show the DNA markers for any one of the known Long QT abnormalities.  Many of the people will have some symptoms of heart disease such as sudden weakness or fainting spells, but just as many people collapse or die suddenly with no warning whatsoever.  My research shows that the specialist will typically take all the symptoms and the family history into account, assign a point value to each factor in the work-up and diagnose on the "score" produced.  Its basically a statistical crap-shoot with the penalty for a mistake being death.  Cardiac Russian Roulette as it were.

So, why would I write about this here today? Well, because it fits quite well and it makes my alternative of "something really bad happened" less likely.  My daughter was an athlete and she was noted to have collapsed suddenly for no apparent cause, followed rapidly by death.  Certainly she was not active when she collapsed, but that is not a consistent finding with Long QT syndrome (common yes, but not consistent). Many of those affected with the syndrome just die without warning while not doing anything much at all.  My daughter also did have a couple of unexplained incidents of fainting when she was growing up. We investigated those fainting spells, but I am not sure the doctor ever actually checked her ECG. Calista was amazingly healthy growing up and she never actually saw a doctor on a regular basis. Most of the time we were seeing the doctor for  minor stuff and once for an allergic reaction to laundry detergent. I am not sure that any of the doctors we ever saw would have known how to turn an ECG machine on much less how to diagnose Long QT. There is one more thing though: my own history.

I have always had an unnaturally low heart rate and very low blood pressure. I always assumed those two abnormalities to be a good thing, at least until last December.  In early December, about two days after I had some minor surgery, I collapsed suddenly in my bathroom while putting some eye drops in. It was first thing in the morning and all I remember is things suddenly getting real black and then waking up when an ambulance driver rolled me over onto my fat ass. I was covered in a cold sweat and pretty much unresponsive on the floor of my bathroom. The ambulance crew had a heck of a time finding a pulse or managing to find a vein on me and I am pretty sure my systolic blood pressure never got above 80 for three or four hours. At that time my ECG was normal, but nobody has any idea what it looked like when I collapsed and I'm not sure that an emergency room clinician would necessarily recognise Long QT syndrome (or even look for it). To this day it remains a bit of a mystery what happened, but you can bet that everyone is running around trying to solve that mystery now that my Calista, my only child, decided to take a permanent nap 8 weeks ago.

Its kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has been pulled down and eaten by wolves; too little too late.  At this point I'm not sure either Roni or I really care if my petty little health problem is diagnosed now that a long life just means a longer sentence in Hell. On the other hand, that brings up another issue altogether.

Perhaps if I had not been a typical man and decided to avoid doctors like the plague they would have discovered a possible familial disease. Maybe if I had not been such a jackass about my own health my daughter would have been screened for Long QT syndrome and diagnosed in time to save her life. Maybe my silly male pride killed my only child. Now there is something to think about for the rest of my life.

Sometimes it really is important to take care of yourself. If not for the obvious, do it for your kids.  I keep on reminding myself that I have numerous nieces and nephews, the majority of which are under thirty. I am pretty sure the screening process is relatively easy (but, yes, not very accurate). For everyone needing more information on Long QT screening, check out this website:

The wee bit of research I did on Long QT syndrome made me pretty sure that it is what took my girl. I will now play "What If" for the rest of my life. Wonderful.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Seven Weeks, Six Days: Letter to Calista

My second session with the grief counsellor was this week.  I probably bored the heck out of the poor woman; once my mouth started moving, I am not sure I really stopped talking for over ninety minutes.  I am not even sure what I said; I just blundered around, making odd, disjointed, unrelated comments. One thing I did realise though; this is going to be a long process that I am not sure I am prepared to make. On the other hand, I can see that Roni gets a lot out of those sessions, so I will support her and continue with my own private appointments.  I still think that it might be just a scam to keep you from offing yourself long enough to find meaning in life again.  So how does a guy that loved being "Daddy"( especially when there was snazzy shoes to buy) find his way after his family has been downsized suddenly?

Obviously writing this blog has become a real outlet for my grief. My readers may have noticed that the period between blog posts is becoming progressively longer. I would love to say that it represents a healing process, but I suggest that it is more of a stagnation. My grief is not getting lighter, it is entrenching, becoming more intractable.  Over the last seven weeks I have really gotten to know my Calista better than ever and her loss has become more profound to me; she was everything I had hoped for and so much more.  That kind of loss just cannot be pushed aside; I will not be finished with all this until the world knows their collective loss. That is how a "Downsized Daddy" finds his way.

Calista's final portfolio arrived home yesterday. Roni and I leafed through it and compared the marks she earned to the photos we selected for the array.  In a class where the highest mark was in the mid-seventies, we managed a very respectable 70.5 points.  That's right: I said "we".  The portfolio was a complete figment of the paired imaginations of Roni and I. We had a vague idea of Calista's major interest (12 required submissions) and not a clue about her minor interest (8 required submissions). We guessed with a little help from her friends and our own hearts. The results were pretty impressive since we managed to miss submitting one of her photos for her major (it was on her flash drive, but somehow it never was printed) and we selected one photo for her minor that clearly had no business being there. We got zero points on those two mistakes, costing Calista possibly a full ten points.  Ten points would have put her clearly at the head of her class. Where she belonged.  Sorry honey, we did the best we could but it in no way reflected your true talent.

Roni and I shipped that portfolio straight to the man who started the whole ball rolling: Jack Cowin. I hope it will be a surprise, but I am told he reads this blog, so it might be that I just unwrapped his present for him. I cried as I wrote the attached letter and as I packed up the portfolio. It's not from any attachment to the assignment since we have most of those photos already on our wall. The tears come from the fact that this is the last submission of my daughter to the man that "Took her from crayons to perfume" (plagiarised from "To Sir With Love").  It all seems too final for me: the last submission. Damn, there the wave catches me again; it's being happening more often this last little while.

Much of the support we have been receiving this last little while has been from fellow bereaved and some of those people I call "collateral damage".  I am still firm in my belief that only people that have lost someone really close to them or that have been caught in the direct fall-out of this sort of tragedy can relate to what Roni and I are going through. We members of the Club of the Damned have our own basic language that allows us to discuss our loss without inciting the pained look of discomfort that seems to plague the rest of the world.  We can discuss our visceral reactions to certain situations without worrying that the listener will think we are crazy: our inability to drive along certain roads or pass the hospital without shedding tears or having to catch our breath. The Club of the Damned understands immediately while the rest of the world nod politely and look for the exit sign.

Don't misunderstand me; I am not upset by the lack of understanding from those who have not been in my shoes. I celebrate it. Thank whatever God you want that most people do not know what it is like to lose a child. I would never wish this on my worst enemy and I am really very glad that the vast majority of my readers and the rest of society has forgotten what its like to have a 50% infant mortality.  We all need to thank modern medicine, nutrition and sanitation for this blessing; less than two hundred years ago most parents could expect to bury half their children before maturity.  I have said before and I need to repeat it here: just trying to say something meaningful is enough. The fact that a person cared enough to offer condolences and cared enough to recognise the insufficiency of those condolences is  absolutely enough. It is all you can offer and its all good.

One of the more peculiar reactions I have had to Calista's death is my obsession with taking up what can only be called "crusades", especially when it comes to the young women that were my daughters close friends and the young women that Roni and I were already friends with.  I tend to keep track of Calista's friends and have made it very clear that I will always be there to support them if they need it. Julia, one of the 20-something volunteers at the veterinary clinic has become a close friend of my wife and her daily trials and tribulations have somehow become my cross to bear. If her employer is giving her a hard time about hours and pay (something that seems to very common in regards with young women; has society always treated women with such lack of respect?) then I have to actually stop myself from walking on down and excavating her manager an new rectal orifice. I guess, after twenty years of being "Daddy", when your anchor line is cut loose suddenly, you start looking around for new anchors.  On the other hand, I really need to remind myself that those young women have their own fathers and, really, my behaviour could be interpreted as a bit creepy if a person did not know the context.

I also need to try to come back to Earth with regards to both the memorial scholarship and the photography contest.  I keep on having flight of fancy that the scholarship fund will just take-off and become a million-dollar super-scholarship, insuring the survival of Calista's beloved photography program at NIC and permanently memorialising her name.  Certainly something like that could happen if I win a lottery, but to win a lottery I would have to remember to buy tickets, something I never do. Until I win though, I have to keep on hoping for a miracle like a book deal from a publisher or offer on the movie rights for my story. Both of these have about the same likelihood of occurring as my lottery win. In truth, I probably should just keep on puttering away at the scholarship, depositing whatever amount I can find from my clinic and my family, hoping to make it self-sufficient within my lifespan On the other hand, since the NIC Foundation is the sole beneficiary of my will, it will be instantaneously wealthy once I depart. I guess I probably shouldn't tell the college administration that little fact; they may just help me depart a little quicker.

As far as the photography contest goes, it is proving to be a bit of a tough nut to crack. I believe my idea is a pretty good one: have a contest based on the production of professionally valuable photographs rather than "art" photographs. By putting the emphasis on photography as a commodity we are honouring the program my Calista loved and specifically her personal area of interest. She just liked doing pretty photos that could be sold for advertising dollars.  The construction of the contest in this way would mean that the contestants could apply any professional technique available to them to produce a marketable image, including computer manipulation. The only strict rule would be that the image must be an original work created independently by the contestant.  Judging from the complete lack of response thus far, I would have to say that none of the people I have contacted thought much of my idea; either it is not original or too progressive. One would think this sort of frustration would discourage me, but I am enjoying the challenge. Anything that keeps me busy also keeps me from thinking too much and getting weepy.

Keeping busy seems to be the key to avoiding complete misery and perhaps finding my way out of the undertow and breaking waves of grief.  If I can find some "great work" to accomplish, perhaps I will, in some small way, fulfil Calista's potential. My support of her friends and young Julia, her memorial scholarship and the photography contest I hope are all some way to "pay the debt forward" for the next generation. Unfortunately, to get here, I paid far too high a price; I think the world owes me one Calista in mint condition. I would have done it for free if I had known that was my destiny.

One of my supporters gave me an excellent idea the other day: I should write a letter to Calista as a way to reconnect.  I think that is a great idea, but I would have to say that this entire blog is one long letter to my daughter, trying in some way to show how much she meant to her mother and I and really, how much we miss her. Hell, we even miss her dirty laundry pile left unceremoniously next to the washer in the basement. Eventually I will be able to bring myself to actually write that "letter to my daughter", but right now it still would hurt too much. All I would be able to write would be "It's time to come home honey. You are welcome home anytime". That is just about the last thing I said to her anyway. 

She really needs to come home soon; she has to be running out of clean clothes by now.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Seven Weeks,Two Days: Land Mines and Cheap Sun Glasses.

We spend so much of our time denigrating our fellow humans and sometimes with good cause, but often with little other reason than it is the popular thing to do. I am here to tell you today that in general humans are much better than we all think; the measure of anyone is not how they perform in the best of times, its how they stand-up in the worst of times. Practically everyone, even complete strangers from the other side of the planet, has been absolutely wonderful and supportive over these last horrible 7 weeks.  Thank-you: even when words fail, the very fact people tried speaks loud and clear.

When a person dies suddenly, there always is little secrets and treasures that turn up sporadically for weeks and months after their death. My own father had bank accounts peppered all over the city in some of the most unlikely financial institutions; my mother found secret cash accounts for three years after he finally gave into the Parkinson's Disease. My daughter, while less than a quarter of her grandfather's age when she died, still has had a few surprises for her mother and I.  Little land mines ready to just explode when we least expect them.

I have commented on the appearance that my daughter was subconsciously preparing for some momentous change in her own life.  Projects organised weeks in advance, repeated omens that "time was of the essence" and catch phrases that might be interpreted as prescient to those left behind. That general trend came back this last week at least twice. I am still left wondering about my girl and what she sensed might be coming.

My wife finally settled most of Calista's financial matters this week. She had two accounts in two banks, one which she seemed to use as a daily operating account while the other appeared to be a savings account. I have no idea what was in her operating account; we have not received the details yet from the bank ( banks never seem to be too willing to give your money back once they have it). On the other hand, my little girl had over $9000 dollars sitting in her savings account.  I was floored. Where the heck did that come from Roni and I wondered? The last time she had been home she had been asking for another draw on her trust account because she was getting a bit shy on the operating finances. What the heck is up with this we thought?

I had my banker look into her finances and he could account for every penny. It seems Calista had been living on her own savings for the most part and leaving the "trust" money alone in her savings account. I am not sure if she had a plan for that money (I know she had her eye on the newest version of the Canon D1s, a ten thousand dollar camera body; I am not sure if she had taken into account the fact she was going to have to get all new lenses as well) or if she intended to just return the money to the family trust unused. I know she was a little defencive about the fact she was a proverbial "Trust Fund Kid"; all her friends were either living at home still or struggling to just get by while she lived pretty well with very few financial worries. There seemed to be a rebellious insistence on being fully independent lately, so I think she might have just being trying to prove she could make it without dipping into the dreaded trust fund.  Either way, it is a bit ironic that the largest single contributor to her memorial scholarship will be Calista herself this year.

Financial responsibility coming from a kid who could never pass up on purchasing a pretty pair of shoes and who owned an amazing number of pairs of sneakers. Especially pink and purple sneakers.

Late Wednesday night I was playing with her treasured iPhone, just cruising through some of the files I had already looked at. Those iPhones are one amazing piece of technology. Really.  I finally found her Facebook page; it was filled with outdated personal messages (they all stopped right around May 17th, imagine that!) that I skipped over and some inane advertising from various shopping and entertainment sites.  My daughter was a Facebook follower of all sorts of celebrities, the only one I actually knew was Ellen Degeneres. Finally, I came across the "photos" setting where most of us have maybe two or three poorly composed, exposed and focused phone-camera candid shots. She had over 200 photos stored in the memory of that phone, most of them pictures of her taken and shared by friends. Think about that for just a moment...

My daughter had left behind a treasure of  candid photos of herself taken by her good friends. These are not posed portraits (which are very nice to have, but hardly show the inner soul of anyone), these are pictures of a young woman goofing around with friends, having fun and generally enjoying her life.  These are glimpses into the real Calista, the Calista her friends knew and loved rather than the mature, serious Calista that Roni and I always saw at home or at the clinic. While I will always love those portraits of Calista  that Jesse gave us, these candid photos are pure gold and they will never fail to make us smile in the years to come.

Calista had also archived a bunch of photos taken over the years; some of the shots were taken by Roni and I, some of them by friends and some of them are school shots. There were many from her high school graduation: she was wearing purple high top sneakers with the gold and red cap n' gown. That was certainly a fashion statement. There were quite a few from her after-grad celebration; I guess off the shoulder dresses were very much in vogue that year. In fact, I think off the shoulder dresses are popular every year, despite the fact very few women of any age can pull that type of dress off successfully. Gravity can pull them off, but not most women. The women reading this will understand as they remember how often they had to adjust their last off-the-shoulder creation. There was an entire series of photos dedicated to her final high-school drama-club play "I Never Saw Another Butterfly"; an excellent production of a dreadful story of the Jewish Holocaust. I loved the effort, hated the play, but my girl loved acting, so I attended (and was quite upset to find that she only had one short line in the entire two hour play). Then there was any number of shots taken while she worked on the Student Rep Council (SRC).  Calista actually ran for student body president one year; I loved her original  campaign advertising DVD, but I was very glad she lost the election. Diplomacy was never her strong point and I think she would have made a lot of people very angry as a president.  And then there were all the pictures of her European trip in grade 12.

Way back in grade 9, Calista came to me all excited about a planned school trip to New York City; for just short of $2000 she could spend 5 days in NY,NY; she would see a Broadway play, visit all the big art galleries (a huge deal for her and I) and get to shop till she dropped.  I was somewhat less than thrilled; two thousand dollars was a pretty large amount to put aside in just a few months and the truth be told, neither Roni nor I was all that happy about our little girl going to the Big Apple for any reason.  At the time, rather than just say no (something I really never learnt to say to my little girl), I deferred and told her that she could go on the next trip that came up.  I guess I did not realise that the school did trips every year, I kind of thought I was deferring the trip idea for a lifetime rather than a season.

Eighteen months later, in the tail end of Grade 10 Calista sat both her mom and I down at the kitchen table for a "family meeting". This was a first for Calista; usually she just asked and received whenever she wanted something. It did not bode well that the conversation started with "Dad; do you remember when you promised you would make the New York trip up to me back in Grade Nine ?".  I tried to play dumb but, uncharacteristically, Roni failed to back me up. Roni did remind me that I had promised Calista that she could go on the next school trip that came up. Then the bomb dropped: this trip was a ten day excursion to Italy and Greece. Oh crap.

I was pretty unhappy about the turn of events, but I must give it to Calista, she did her financial homework. The trip was not actually scheduled for another eighteen months, to fall over the Easter break of her Grade 12 year and EF Tours had an entire program where they automatically charged a monthly fee to my Mastercard, so the full amount would be paid in full long before she ever left the ground. How wonderful! I get to send my child thousands of miles away with strangers and go even farther into debt with my good friends over at Mastercard. I have a suspicion that Roni and Calista had discussed the project in detail before I got home from work and that the decision was never really in my hands at all. So of course my girl got to go to Europe in Grade 12 and I am pretty sure she never did a lick of fund raising to help me pay for it; everything was as it should be in the world for Princess Calista.

The trip itself was really quite something and I wholeheartedly recommend the EF Tours program to anyone. They do a pretty good job really and it is quite affordable if you have enough leeway to pay in instalments.  On this trip the kids fly through the night to land in Rome in the early morning. From that moment onwards their days are pretty much planned to the second. Three and one half days in Rome, one day in Pompeii, and then an overnight ferry ride over to Southern Greece. The students then spend four days touring Southern Greece and fly home from Athens.  We heard from our darling daughter twice; once when she landed and once on the way home (from some airport in Germany I think; I am pretty sure she just wanted to make sure we were at the airport to meet her and that the cat had missed her).

Calista was in fine form for the whole trip. The road warrior of her youth was still hidden down inside the princess of her teen years and jet lag was something other people suffered from.  She was terribly disappointed with her class mates though; they were supposed to enjoy tour excursions starting from the moment they disembarked the air plane, but most of the kids were so tired and sick that they had to forgo all day trips that afternoon.  They settled on coffee and scones in the Piazza del Popolo.  Now how cool is that? Really? I would have done anything to sit beside my girl and watch the Romans stream by, surrounded by Renaissance buildings and fountains built over the remains of an ancient coliseum.

When Calista was off to Rome, I asked her for photos of just a few things: The Pantheon, St. Peter's Square, anything inside St. Peter's Cathedral, and possibly the Sistine Chapel.  She got great pictures of the Pantheon (predictably the outstanding domed roof), a few pictures of St. Peter's Square and one of two God-awful pictures of the inside of the Cathedral.  We misjudged one thing though: it was Easter and there was hundreds of thousands of people in Rome for the high holy days. Furthermore, the Sistine Chapel was off limits for the Easter masses. The other thing I forgot was that any tours through St. Peter's Cathedral are going to be done at a constant marching pace so the tens of thousands of pilgrims that travel to Rome every year can see the church. Has anyone out there ever tried to take a picture in low light conditions while keeping up the constant pace of a tour-guide? I have a blurry photo of Michelangelo's Pieta behind bullet proof glass and that is as good as she could get.

One classic Calista story came out of this.  When the school originally arrived within the Vatican compound, the tour had not actually planned for the students to visit the Cathedral. The papal Easter speech was scheduled and the tour thought that there would be no time for a walk through of the church. As it ended up, the Pope was short and to the point (Calista was pretty sure it was the Pope, but from 450 yards, the little guy in the white hat could have been a trained chimpanzee as far as she knew) and they actually found themselves with plenty of time to visit the Cathedral. The problem now was that my little girl had worn shorts on the excursion and there was no way any woman was entering the Pope's church with bare knees.  Not to be denied, Calista tracked down a street vendor who sold large scarfs that could be made into skirts that would just cover her knees.  Success!!  My girl still owned the holy scarf when we cleaned out her apartment; that and a whole load of much nicer scarfs that she wore around her neck practically every day.  How very continental.

Calista amassed quite a collection of cheap sun-glasses on her European vacation, each pair more gaudy and tasteless than the last. In each photo we have of that trip she seems to sport a different pair; some green, some orange, one pair of huge aviators which seemed to be a favourite, and a couple of pairs that only a teen-ager would wear. One of the classic photos that we had to laugh about was a group photo of some of her close friends in a circle, each one sporting another pair of Calista's collection.  When we retrieved her car from the house that she died at I had to collect two pairs of cheap sun glasses off the seat before I could even sit down. Those pairs are still kicking around her little Smart Car.  We must have close to a dozen pairs between her car, her bed room and the basket hidden in our front closet.  They were just a variation on her costume fetish.

The best pictures of her trip had to be the "kids goofing around" shots.  There were a series of pictures with her and two or three of her friends doing "Vogue" poses while standing on top of various Greek monuments. I am sure the Greeks were very pleased to have our good Canadian kids climbing up their 3000 year old marble antiquities just so they could "strike a pose".  I also am sure that my girl Calista was behind the whole escapade since she seemed to be very good at posing for the camera (and that is exactly what her portrait photography instructor told me too).  Right now, there is no greater treasure to me than these photos: they show my kid at her very best; having spontaneous fun with her friends. That is something parents rarely ever see.

I expect to run across many "land-mines" as we sift through the flotsam and jetsam of her young life cut short. Most, I hope, will bring a smile to our face, albeit with a generous helping of tears at the waste.  The windfall of memories that came with the finding of those photos Wednesday night was a two edged sword though.  Both Roni and I laughed and cried at the same time, but after the lights were turned off and the quiet of the house was ascendant, the wave took Roni and dragged her under deeper than it had in weeks. She cried as hard as she did that very first terrible day, perhaps even harder.  The sobs wracked her body and I was sure she was going to either pass out from hyperventilation or vomit from the abdominal heaving.  The only coherent thing she could say was "Why?".  The sooner the coroner can come to some conclusion the better.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Six Weeks, Six Days: The Ever after

Almost seven weeks, not quite two months into  the "ever after" and I sure wish I could tell everyone that reads this that there is some completion to this record of pain.  Modern society likes to call it closure and every good story has some sense of closure, doesn't it? The problem is that this is not a story; it's real life. Like all of Hemingway's great novels, no matter how well I tell the tale, there is never going to be a conclusion until my own end.

And there is the rub; I keep on looking for an ending to this tunnel of horrors and I should know better. There is never going to be an ending because life is messy and always has loose ends left untied.  On the other hand, there are a few things that I should review that might give some of my readers hope. I, personally, have no hope, just expectations.

I do have some projects on the go, some of which are really working out well, while others are stalling. Other people involved in this little saga have their parts to play out, and I can only hope that they will finally find the answers we all need before we can move on.

The coroner still is chipping away at the case, hoping against all odds to find a cause of death. That is becoming akin to the pot of gold at the illusive end of the rainbow. If her cause of death was not found on gross pathology during the autopsy, it is unlikely to be anything easy like an aneurysm, choking, meningitis or heart-attack.  All those common causes of sudden death are pretty evident on post-mortem examination. The coroner already looked at alcohol toxicity;  but with a blood alcohol level of 0.03 that is an easy rule-out. She is now going back to the toxicology and looking closely for any detectable levels of any of the common toxic drugs that float around young adult parties these days.  Now the police know that the bar-b-cue was far from a wild party, but predators lurk at quiet watering holes sometimes too.  Those results are still outstanding.

One thing that is becoming a problem for me is that the young man who was with my girl at the very end is our only source of information of what really happened during those last few hours. I want to trust everyone who tells me that he is a stand-up guy and I truly believe the police did a good job of interrogation before they released him. The issue I have is that the one person who could tell me about Calista's last moments on Earth has never taken one effort to communicate in any meaningful way to either Roni or me and has now apparently left the province for greener pastures.  I have to wonder about a young man who is only qualified as a farm worker, who was working full time at a farm in his home town in the busiest time of year for farmers, who suddenly decides to leave home and work "drilling holes" (presumably in the oil fields of Alberta and Saskatchewan) less than two weeks after he is involved in a tragic death. Perhaps understandable for some, but for this father, it does nothing to settle the questions in my mind.  Even a simple e-mail giving me the details of his side of the situation would have been far better than silence and a quick departure.

I hope that the completed coroner's report and a closed police file will give both Roni and I some closure so we can move on.

The memorial scholarship through the North Island College Foundation (Courtenay BC: that is a shameless plug) looks like it is going to fly well. The college has been wonderful, the establishment of the fund has been seamless, and between my own resources, Calista's surprisingly large estate, and a generous flow of donations from friends and family, it looks like the scholarship fund will be self sufficient in a very short few years. It may even grow into something very substantial that will help their photography program thrive into the future. If one good thing can come of this, then there can be some degree of closure for Roni and I. Of course, I dream big, so maybe my expectations and my reality are vastly different; the scholarship will probably just be sufficient in the end.

I still want to establish a photography contest in her memory.  Through the years, as Calista submitted pictures to various different contests, I learnt a few things about the photography contests. The majority of the contests are sponsored by one magazine or the other, and all of them have either cash or equipment as prizes.  I believe most of the equipment is donated in exchange for advertising space in the magazine.  All of the contests have very similar categories and rules: landscape, lifestyle (action shots), portrait and art. They all seem to limit computerised manipulation and they have professional and amateur categories.  I probably missed all sorts of details there, but you have the gist of it. I wanted to go in a unique direction altogether as an homage to Calista.  Calista was enamoured with advertising photography; she liked the idea of creating a photograph that was not just visually appealing, but actually "sold" it's subject.  Now I'm not sure at all where this came from, but that was what Calista loved, so I want the show to honour her.  For her contest my concept would be that the categories would all be advertising appropriate photography: tourism landscape, modelling portraiture, product advertising still-life and real-estate advertisement architecture.  Take off the limitations of photo-manipulation and just make the goal of the contest to create a marketable product ready for public advertising display.  I also want the contest to be about promoting young aspiring professional photographers rather than well meaning hobbyists.  Perhaps I will be proved wrong on this, but since the program at North Island College was all about producing professional photographers rather than artists, I would like to make this fly. 

Right now, despite numerous letters written, stamped and mailed, I have had only a very limited response. Many well-wishers and encouragement, but nobody has actually stepped up to the gangplank and boarded my crazy pirate ship.  I just have to remind myself that it is never about how many times you fall down, its all about how many times you get back up again.

Boomer, Calista's favourite instructor (though Shawn was right up there in popularity), had an interesting comment to me the other day: "Pay it Forward".  The term "pay it forward" refers to a movie that came out perhaps ten years ago. The concept of the movie was that a little boy convinced the world that we should all do good deeds for each other and by doing so see a greater result in the end.  Good deeds creates good karma and it all comes back home eventually. Specifically we were discussing all of Calista's photography equipment.

Over the last year Calista had accumulated a substantial amount of pretty expensive equipment. I do not have a faint clue what most of the toys do; even her new camera, the Canon 7D is pretty much a mystery to me (and I bought the darn thing for her just in March; she barely got the packing dust off the camera before she died).  Another man might store the equipment away as some sort of museum piece keepsake, but that would be such a bloody waste.  That equipment could help spring-board the career of some young photographer to fulfil some of the potential that we all lost when Calista died.  Boomer and I discussed potential beneficiaries of the equipment and I have a pretty good idea how I should handle this, but I will sit on the idea for the time being until emotions are not so raw.  Boomer referred to the dispersal of the equipment as "paying the debt forward"; perhaps he is right, but I see it as trying to dig some treasure out of the bottom of a very deep, partially filled out-house pit.  Finding good in all of this will be a real challenge.

I even had this idea that I would eventually publish this Blog as a book. On the other hand,  I have found the bravery to read some of my early entries here; they were pretty raw really, the spelling and diction are deplorable, and I am not sure if they really are reading material. I would be nice to generate some income (though profitable publishing is so rare that it is practically an oxymoron) and use that income to fund both the scholarship and the photo contest.  Furthermore, I would need to find some conclusion or sense of closure to the story; books that end with "and everyone just continued on living this way for the rest of their life" are just not all that enjoyable. And that leads me to the conclusion for today.

I believe everyone, my family, my friends and perhaps even myself, expects there to be some sense of "conclusion" here.  Well, guess what? As I said at the beginning today, this is real life and there is no end to this black tunnel.  Roni and I are not going to "get better" or "get past this"; we will just get far better at covering up so those around us do not feel permanently uncomfortable. We will learn to smile when it is appropriate to smile, laugh when everyone else laughs, and act like we feel just like everyone else. We won't, we can't. Its just not going to happen. There is a great gaping wound in our souls that is not going to heal.  Only other member's of the Club of the Damned can explain this and we can only do it within the club; people who have not lost children cannot possibly understand. Furthermore, I pray that none of you "non-members" out there ever learn the secret rites of membership because the fee is a higher price than anyone should pay.